Sunday, July 09, 2006

# Posted 7:16 AM by Patrick Porter  

FORZA AZZURRII! Not to be contrarian or anything, but I find myself on the other side of Adesnik when it comes to barracking this evening.

The Italian diaspora down under was everywhere to be felt. Italian families, among many others, emigrated from Italy from the late nineteenth century, their numbers swelling after World War Two, as they journeyed to a strange continent a world away. Some came less voluntarily, as prisoners of war.

It touched my generation of undergrads at university, since we were just around the corner from one of the main streets of Italian restaurants and coffee houses, Lygon Street. Black and white photos of their ancestors and pioneers hung from the walls, their overworked faces covered in sweat and smiles after building up businesses from nothing. Down at the beach they would picnic as huge clans.

And while their success speaks well of their strength and the ultimate receptiveness of Australian society, it seems that in the first decades they achieved this while swimming against a tide of discrimination and sectarian suspicion.

Australian political history in the 1950's is incomprehensible without the Roman Catholic anti-communist movement in the Labor Party. Names like Bob Santamaria and Daniel Mannix testify to the strong Irish-Italian element in our own backyard Cold War struggles. They fled the turmoil of Old Europe, to find that politics remains interested in you, even if you are tired of politics.

Their more prosperous children, of course, are now among our mayors and parliamentarians, our millionaires and philosophers, our footballers and writers. During world cups, they would hang Italian colours and, when winning, would pile into cars and roar around the streets in jubilation. This might be wrong, but I suspect they played a major role in introducing Oz to good coffee. And they can play such beautiful, balletic, clever football.

Its been a tough year for Italy. Corruption, scandals and football match-fixing, in an alarmingly aging nation whose economy is sluggish and whose judiciary, government and political system seems demoralised and tainted. The ugly face of fascist salutes and racist jeering has appeared at some football matches now and again, to the distress of other fans.

There has been a tendency lately to overvalue the political effects of world cup triumphs in reinforcing national harmony, racial co-existence or whatever other threatened part of the social fabric. France's double victories in World Cup 98 and Euro 2000 didn't ultimately submerge the divisions and distress that erupted in the ghetto riots last year, and I suspect that an Italian conquest tonight won't root out the crisis of confidence in her institutions and government. Its easy to be hyperbolic about football.

But it would be a nice distraction and give them a few months of glory. And that wouldn't be so bad.

Good luck tonight, Italy! And no hard feelings about that penalty.
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